One of the challenges for an actor who wants to make their character real and alive on the stage is to create “memories” of past events in relationship to the other characters. This then allows them to react authentically in the moment to what the other characters do and say on the stage so that it does not sound like a mechanical reading of words off of a page. There are many ways to do this. Roger, in preparing for his bellhop role, chose to do that by writing an letter to his (imaginary) sister to bring her “up to date” on everything that was going on in his life a couple of weeks before the setting of the play.
September 23, 1934
I thought it was well past time when I should write to my dear sister and let her know what is going on in my world.
I suppose the most important news is my promotion to Bellhop Captain at the Ritz-Carlton where, as you know, I have been working for the past four years. The manager said nice things about my work and how often guests told him about the quality of my service.
Of course, he warned me yet again to try and be nicer to Henry Saunders, the manager of the Cleveland Opera Company. I do my best to be polite to him but he is so arrogant and rude to everyone that it really annoys me. I really don’t think he can tell the difference between fine opera and a group of howling dogs – so long as he can make money off of it.
Max is his assistant and has been taking singing lessons for several years now. He really has a lot of talent, but Saunders is constantly putting him down and making fun of him. Max is so shy and unsure of himself that he never seems to get angry or upset with him. The fact that he is crazy in love with Margaret, Saunders’ daughter, may have something to do with it.
Margaret is in her late twenties but her father keeps treating her like a little girl, insisting on calling her Maggie. She so wants to see the world and get away from her father, but despairs of Max’s incompetence anytime he tries to take something on himself. The poor man tried to take Maggie on a romantic evening out on the lake recently and managed to lose the oars. The two of them were on the lake for more than a day before they were finally rescued!
I suggested to Max that the local soprano, Diana, might be able to help him get a chance in a local production. She is very ambitious and ready to do just about anything to get ahead in her career. She is not a bad singer, but probably not good enough to make it in the big time in places like New York or London. When I made the suggestion, Max just looked at me like I was nuts. Like I said, he only has eyes for Maggie.
Julia Willowsby is the head of the Cleveland opera guild, and I just adore her. She loves opera as much as I do. Women of class like her don’t normally associate with bellhops, but she constantly invented reasons for me to do something for her, like bring her coffee. Not exactly a normal task for a bellhop, but it meant we could have many wonderful conversations about music and the arts in general. She even asks me to help with the ushering when there is a performance she knows means a lot to me. I would never get to see them if I had to pay for them myself. I rather suspect that it was her kind words to my manager that got me promoted.
Well, that’s about it for me. Hope all is well with you and the family. Write when you have time.
PS: Guess what? Julia and Saunders have managed to persuade Tito Merelli to do a performance of Otello here. Hard to believe a world-class tenor like him would be willing to come to Cleveland. I have adored his work forever and maybe now I’ll get a chance to tell him so to his face. More on this later.
Text: Roger Voight
Pictures: Katrin Fegert